Do you need a shingles vaccine?

Itchy, scabby skin, fluid-filled blisters, fatigue and a fever. Not fun, right?

When you’re finally recovering from those painful symptoms of chickenpox, you feel a tremendous sense of relief. But what if the chickenpox virus comes back to visit?

Chickenpox is caused by the varicella zoster virus.  When you recover from chickenpox, it may seem as if the virus is gone, but it just becomes dormant in your nerve tissues.

Certain people can live their entire lives unaware of this, with no symptoms. However, if your immune system suffers a blow, the virus can be reactivated, and shingles will develop.


Like chickenpox, shingles grow as a blistering rash, along with itching, burning sensations and pain.

Other symptoms include a fever, chills, headache and stomach pain. The shingles rash often looks like a band or strip, forming a cluster of blisters around one side of the waist. Other common locations for shingles are the forehead and around or near the eyes, but shingles can develop anywhere on the body.

It’s not possible to give someone shingles, but if someone hasn’t had the chickenpox, they may get chickenpox from you. This is possible if someone has direct contact with the active shingles blisters.

Are you at risk?

Shingles only last two to four weeks and most people fully recover. If you’ve ever had chickenpox, you’re at risk of getting shingles and your risk increases with age.

  • People over 60 are 10 times more likely to develop it and a quarter of all adults will get shingles at some point.
  • Some cancer medications, steroid medication, a weak immune system and stress or trauma, can also affect your immunity, and put you at risk.
  • Children who haven’t had chickenpox are in danger of getting chickenpox if they’re exposed to shingles blisters.
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Prevention and treatment

The only way to really protect yourself from getting shingles and chickenpox and particularly in children, is to get the vaccine for the varicella zoster virus. In South Africa, this vaccine is part of the South African vaccination schedule. It’s available at pharmacies or a hospital. It costs approximately R435 at local pharmacies and if given in adulthood, it may reduce the effects of shingles and is recommended in people who are 60 years old and older.

To avoid complications after having chicken pox, it’s important to have it treated as soon as possible. If you’ve had chickenpox, and suspect you may have the shingles, go to your doctor immediately.

Treatment includes anti-inflammatory medication and pain medication like Ibuprofen, paracetamol and codeine. Your doctor will also prescribe antiviral medication to prevent the virus from multiplying. It’s important to have the virus treated within 72 hours of developing shingles.

Ease the discomfort

  • Wear loose-fitting clothing.
  • Apply wet dressings and ice to the affected areas.
  • Take cool baths.
  • Moisturise your itchy skin with creams (steer clear of scented ones).